Sunday, 29 November 2009

Zulu warriors to be honoured

Zulu warriors who killed more than 1,300 British troops in the "Empire's longest day" are to be honoured with an official memorial in South Africa.

The catastrophic defeat at Isandlwana on the Natal border in South Africa on Jan 22, 1879 has largely been overshadowed in Britain by the dramatic defence of Rorke's Drift later the same day, which featured in the Sir Michael Caine film Zulu.

That battle, which pitted a tiny garrison of fewer than 140 men against 3,000 heavily armed Zulus, came to symbolise the Anglo-Zulu war but distracted attention from the battle five miles away at Isandlwana, where a 1,750-strong British force was overwhelmed by 20,000 Zulu warriors.

More than 1,300 of those defending the isolated position were massacred in what remained the most catastrophic loss of life for British forces until the First World War.

The Anglo-Zulu war was brought to a close in August 1879 with the capture and exile of the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, and the integration of the territory more fully into British controlled South Africa.

Now about 10,000 Zulu warriors who died in the war are finally to be given a formal monument, to be erected by state of KwaZulu Natal. Because the Zulu army kept was no official paperwork, Amafa. the state's heritage body, has embarked on an ambitious oral history project to draw together as many names as it can from local families.

"This is an important project because so far only one side of the battle has been remembered," said Bongani Mdunge, a spokesman for the organisation. "The British have their records of those soldiers who died during the war, but on the Zulu side there are none. "We want to right that wrong and to create a register of the brave men who died for their tribe. Until now these men have remained anonymous to all but their families.

"It is right that they are remembered with the same respect as the British. When we have the names we will mark them on a monument so that we can never forget their sacrifice." Today white cairns mark the spots where the British soldiers were buried in mass graves after the battle. But most of the Zulu warriors were taken back from the battlefield to be given traditional burials in their villages.

"We want all descendants of the brave soldiers to submit their names so we can compile a list," said Mr Mdunge. "Once we have the roll of honour we will build a lasting monument at Isandlwana to remember them.

"Noting the names of those warriors and the regiments they served in will add to the human story and enable the descendants to share their family histories."

Jew Professor Saul David, who has written 'extensively' on the Anglo-Zulu War, said that defeat at Isandlwana was a “massive psychological blow” to Britain which threatened to change the course of imperial history.

“For the Zulus to overwhelm a disciplined force of British infantry is an astonishing coup, if it had not been for of Rorke’s Drift, who knows what the consequences would have been, who knows what choices there would have been.

“Disraeli’s government back home was in severe danger of falling over this one disaster, not least because it was also embroiled in another unpopular war in Afghanistan. “Definitely it was a deliberate policy to upgrade of Rorke’s Drift which had been a relatively insignificant affair.

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